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Friday, July 31, 2009

Goodness still exists

We all honored Kallu yesterday. The entire staff and management at the corporate hqrs gathered to honor Kallu, the lovable waiter who works at the Dodi highway treat on the Bhopal Indore road. Kallu had displayed a very high sense of personal integrity when he returned to a visitor his bag that contained cash and jewellery, cash and jewellery that was enough for any normal human being to sacrfice his ideals for. But Kallu the waiter was not tempted, even in the present age of kalyug. kallu even went to the extent of refusing the cash award that the owner of the bag wanted to give him after receiving his bag.

Kallu is a big man. Big not in the eyes of the society, for the indian society equates bigness only with position or wealth, but in the eyes of God and also those who value values in life more than anything else. How I wish the indian society, especially the politicians and bureaucrats emulate the kallu example more than anything else.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Corruption Conference

My experiments on dealing with probity in public life finally seem to be bearing fruit. The third transparency conference held at Bhopal in March 2009 did not result in the kind of bad blood generated by the earlier ones. Yes, the first conference created ripples as it was the first ever attempt by a Government organization in the state to discuss corruption in a transparent and open forum. It is also true that some of my staff were disturbed, disturbed at having to face a mob of suppliers and contractors whose frank opinion was being sought on the issue of corruption in MPT by their own managing director. Even then the signal that emerged from the first conference was that the tourism corporation does not merit a mention in the front ranking corrupt organizations in Madhya Pradesh. The signal was satisfying, but for the message to be really forceful, it was necessary to institutionalize the conference, by having it at regular intervals. And hence the second conference in April 2008 followed by the third in March 2009. The closed door, one to one meetings that provide a genuine forum for the partners to vent their problems without being marked, have been the highlight of these conferences.

It is indeed rare for a public functionary to talk about bringing probity in public life and that too in an open forum. It is easy to remain honest, than to make others honest, even if by force. And therefore this attempt was hailed in the local media as another milestone/achievement for the tourism corporation. Hopefully this may also stir other sarkari organizations into some action on the integrity front, but I remain skeptical. So deeply ingrained has corruption become that only a major surgery can now cure Bharat Mata of this disease. Even Prime Ministers, one remembers the independence-day address of an ex prime minister, express helplessness over corruption. And if this is so, not even God can save this poor country.

Rampant organised extortion

Are only well established gangsters, settled in Karachi, Dubai and metropolises the real dons? Do only the “hafta seekers” in metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi, qualify to be called as the real extortionists? Yes it is true that they are extortionists and criminals whom the people fear and who deserve to be eliminated for the benefit of the society. But is it not true that many Governemnt offices, cutting across state boundaries, with exceptions off course, also act like extortionists? It is a nightmare for an ordinary citizen of this country to approach any governmental agency for getting an approval, registration, license etc. We are all aware of the harassment a simple citizen faces in getting a house registered, getting a driving license, getting a ration card, getting an electrical connection or even a life/death certificate from a government agency. Getting anything done from the Government system is a nightmare. Yet no senior government functionary, a politician or a bureaucrat would take sincere action to set things right as he remains thoroughly insulated from the malaise of the system and therefore has no stake. A common man, not a powerful government servant cannot get any job done within a government system without bribing a government functionary as well as massaging his ego. If you are an entrepreneur, be prepared to adequately take care of a battalion of extortionists under the garb of a variety of government functionaries who shall visit you or make you visit them with amazing regularity. It is as fact that every restaurant owner in the nation’s capital has to keep specified amounts in envelopes every month for the local police, the sales tax guy, collectors from the food department, the municipal authorities and many other leeches of various kinds. And Delhi is one city in India. Just imagine the extortion money only from restaurants. Try getting a gun or a bar license, without giving bribes. Try getting and then executing a big civil contract without being robbed of the fixed percentage. The list is endless. A corrupt breed of men in the garb of government functionaries on a perpetual extortion spree!

Yes there are exceptions. But one has to be either really lucky or really powerful or really rich to bump into one.

Come to think of it. While real extortionists, the official and licensed extortionists, the sarkari functionaries function under the safety of the law, under the garb of officialdom from their official chambers situated in official buildings. The masses look upon these extortionists with awe and pray that their children are able to occupy such seats of power when they grow up. This organized extortion is now an accepted practice with eyebrows being raised only if the extortion becomes unbearable. And the pack of jokers, the corrupt politicians and the officialdom alike who form the bulk of the system have the cheek to talk about development, values, integrity and the nation. Bullshit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bias against the public sector

A very strong bias against the public sector is a common trait of us indians. Public sector bashing is very good passtime. I have noticed it even within my own family, despite being associated with the public sector for a long time. Whenever we go out for a dinner, my wife criticizes the delay as well as the quality of foood if consumed in a public sector hotel, while at the same time not even noticing a greater delay or a really lousy food served in a private sector hotel of repute.
I often wonder why is it so? Is it because we regard public sector as our own and therefore while carrying a very low opinion of ourselves, we carry the same opinion of the public sector.
At the same time it is also true that the quality of the public sector leaves much to be desired, but the private sector can be equally bad or even worse at times. But fortunately or unfortunately there is nothing like a bias against the private sector, rather there is a bias for it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Public Sector stinks

My recent stay at Hotel Ashok was a disaster. Checked in in the mornig and checked out in the evening, due to complete failure of the airconditioning and generators. The beautiful suite room had turned into an oven by the evening. It was disgraceful, in fact the worst nightmare of a hotelier, the collapse of both the vital systems. There was a reason, large scale renovation, but the reason was not good enough. Airconditioning and electrical systems in a hotel are not meant to fail, despite whatever. And I moved into Hotel Samrat in the evening. Nothing much to write home about, but the hotel staff out of their love and affection for me and my family made the stay worthwhile.

ITDC is still a great organization with a large mandate "Development of tourism in India". Having headed ITDC in its hey days, albeit under the looming shadow of disinvestment, one of the worst things to have happenned to the corporation, I am still of the firm belief that the best days of ITDC are yet to come. ITDC can still, even now rise from the ashes and become the leader in the tourism scene of the nation.

If only it is handled like a commercial, not a bureaucratic organization and the CEO takes things head on, without bothering about the consequences. Perhaps I am wrong, for I was given the boot in December 2002, when I handled things head on and in the process rubbed the powers that be the wrong way, even though I was right and they were wrong.

And now we hear about the mess that is Air India. Again a classic example of bureaucratic mishandling of a commercial enterprise, rampant internal loot and weak CEO's. But such CEO's last their terms even though the organizaton does not.

God only can now help the public sector in this country.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Air India

The recent downturn in the fortunes of Air India makes interesting reading. Amazing, how the indian bureaucrats can screw a high performing public sector corporation in a short time frame. Well the present outcome is borne out of consistent efforts of mass loot of the corporation by the bureaucrats in command and also politicians. Else how can one justify the large scale purchase of aircrafts during the days when the aviation industry worldwide was reeling under recession. Large scale freebies to the top management as well as the privilaged classes of employees must also have contributed to the downturn. Rampant corruption that eats up an organization from inside must also have contributed. Having once headed a large hospitality sector CPSU in the past and now a state PSU successfully, I have acquired a fair amount of insight into successful running of PSU's.
But CPSU's have a lot of innner strength and resilience despite the looters and it would be real fun to turn this organization around and make it one of the finest airlines internationally. If given a chance ofcourse, one year is all it would take for a turnaround even for a mammoth organization like the Air India. I am totally confident of doing the turnaround, but not being from the elite IAS is a big disadvantage in this country where these three letters take overriding priority over meritocracy. As one rightly said, dreams ought to remain dreams.